Revealed: Fianna Fail prepared to back minority Fine Gael government
Martin 'no' to coalition but party open to deal to thwart Sinn Fein
Fianna Fail is willing to support a minority Fine Gael government on a vote-by-vote basis if there is a hung Dail after the election, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
However, party leader Micheal Martin has been advised by senior TDs to again firmly rule out a formal coalition with Fine Gael.
Mr Martin is refusing to engage in the debate about Fianna Fail's intentions until after the election, and is said to be concentrating on maximising the party's vote.
However, there has been a strategic shift in Fianna Fail's position ahead of the election, expected in seven months, arising out of intense speculation in recent weeks.
Yesterday, Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins told the Sunday Independent: "If we are in opposition after the election and if there is a minority government, we would use our position to effect policy change where possible."
As a close ally of Mr Martin, Mr Collins' view represents a shift in the party from a position of being either in power or fully in opposition to the government.
He added: "Fianna Fail, in opposition, would look at each item on its own merits, item-by-item, and obviously we would oppose it if we didn't like it."
Last night, Fianna Fail social protection spokesman Willie O'Dea went even further, saying he would be "quite open" to a more formal "supply and confidence" agreement to support a Fine Gael minority government should Fianna Fail be in opposition.
"I think an agreement like that is infinitely better than Fianna Fail getting into bed with Fine Gael either as a junior or senior partner," he said. He also said his motivation was to "keep down Sinn Fein" and to "force Fine Gael to implement Fianna Fail policy."
Recent opinion polls indicate a hung Dail after the election, expected to be called in February.
There has been intense speculation in recent weeks as to the make-up of the next government in such a scenario.
The Sunday Independent understands that a majority of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party would be willing to offer support to a Fine Gael-led minority government on a vote-by-vote basis.
In what effectively amounts to a "supply and confidence" agreement, Fianna Fail would, therefore, not oppose the election of Enda Kenny as Taois- each after the general election if Fine Gael is the largest party but without a Dail majority.
Fianna Fail would then continue to support such a minority government on crucial votes in return for the implementation of red line elements of its own manifesto.
Such a government would be relatively unstable, however, and could be collapsed at any time of Fianna Fail's choosing.
In "supply and confidence" arrangements, the smaller party commits to support the Government on crucial votes in return for concessions on its own manifesto.
Such an arrangement can enable a ruling party to pass much of its agenda and fill all ministerial posts without having to make too many concessions.
In return, smaller parties win support for some of their favoured policies while avoiding possible political taint that may come from participation in an unpopular coalition.
A Fianna Fail parliamentary party majority is opposed to a formal coalition as junior partners to Fine Gael, contrary to a view put forward by finance spokesman Michael McGrath.
He said last week that it would be "out of touch and arrogant" for Fianna Fail to say it would not go into power unless it was the majority party.
The Sunday Independent understands that, in the event of a hung Dail, a majority of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party is not prepared to adopt what is referred to as a Tallaght Strategy approach.
The Tallaght Strategy was a policy followed by Fine Gael from 1987, under which it did not oppose economic reforms proposed by the Fianna Fail minority government in the national interest.
However, last night Mr O'Dea said: "People argue that Fine Gael didn't do well out of the Tallaght Strategy, but there are different types of Tallaght Strategies."
The considered view in Fianna Fail is that recent government formation speculation is Fine Gael-inspired.
"All of this speculation deflects from the Irish Water debacle, the housing crisis, the mortgage arrears issue and that suits Fine Gael," a senior Fianna Fail TD said yesterday.
However, the prevailing view in Fianna Fail is that should the party not emerge as the largest after the election, it should remain in opposition.
In that scenario, the party would be in a position to challenge the electoral ambitions of Sinn Fein and the far left and also to exert influence over a minority Fine Gael government and implement Fianna Fail policy.